Buying tiles: Which materials to go for?


How many Instagram or Pinterest images have you saved with ah-mazing wall or floor tiles? Admit it, you’re obsessed too. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one – tiles are big – no huge – news right now.

And it’s no wonder with so many colours, patterns, textures and shapes to choose from. From the ever-popular lily pad design to simple metro and hexagonal tiles, there’s a lot of fun to be had when it comes to buying tiles for your kitchen or bathroom.

The best bit, I think, is how much personality you can inject with your choice – mix colours and designs, go for alternative laying patterns, use contrasting grout…I could go on. But I’ll get to the informative bit instead, shall I?

Choosing the right style when you’re buying tiles can be quite a challenge, what with so many different styles, patterns, and colours, not to mention what they are made from.

The material is always a good place to start, as selecting the ideal tile type really depends on where you are planning to use it. Some are more suitable to certain areas – for example walls, floors, wet areas, or those that may need to withstand high heat – than others. Let me explain…

Hardwearing tiles

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are most commonly used in kitchen and bathroom schemes. Both are made using clay and raw materials, which are fired to create a wide range of patterns, and sizes.

Porcelain designs are made of a finer, denser grade of clay than ceramic and then pressed and cooked for longer at hotter temperatures, resulting in a high-performance, durable material that is non-porous, frost proof, and stain resistant – a good, stable choice for many uses. Suitable for both walls and floors, porcelain tiles are also available in a wide variety of designs and shapes and are easy to maintain. They can be used virtually anywhere, having an advantage over ceramic styles in outdoor areas, wet zones, and rooms with high footfall.

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A thing to remember when you’re buying tiles is: ceramic is fine on the walls, but porcelain is a better choice for floors and external use.


Carter ceramic gloss tiles in Rose, Ca’Pietra.

Glass & mosaics

Coloured glass tiles and mosaics are great for walls, but using them on floors should come with a word of warning.  Not only will they easily catch dirt, they are also not as hardy as other materials. Instead, stick to them as details within a larger design, for example to accentuate areas, such as a splashback or border or around a basin or storage niches in a shower, and offer a touch of glamour that is also easier to clean and maintain.

These tiles are usually smaller in size, so bear in mind there tends to be more grout involved, which often needs a bit more maintenance and cleaning.

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Natural stone

Natural stone is still popular. Beautiful and timeless, with infinite detail and variations, each tile is different with unique markings, patterns, and textures. Stone offers innate strength and durability and continues to be an enduring choice.

However, a natural material requires a little more care and attention. Stone is porous, so sealing the tiles is critical, and harsh cleaning products may damage the surface. Also be aware it will mark and wear with time – but for me, that’s part of the charm.


British Ceramic Tile’s HD Concrete tiles in light, mid, and dark.

Faux finds

Advancements in print technology (bear with me!) mean imitation marbles made from porcelain or ceramic provide a great alternative if you are conscious of maintenance or want a more affordable solution. They don’t need sealing and the good ones have lots of variation and patterns – so you don’t see repeats of the veining, making them appear much more realistic.

Bert and May tiles

Bert & May’s Blue Split Shift tiles.

Concrete, clay & encaustic tiles

Cement or encaustic tiles have become increasingly popular – I suspect it’s due to the colour and pattern choice.

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Similarly, concrete tiles are often requested and come in a wide range of designs and shades – all with an urban, industrial-style feel.

If you prefer a more traditional look, terracotta tiles are made using clay and then fired, which creates a more artisan style. Usually unglazed, their natural earthy tones provide a beautiful rustic look.


A big trend, terrazzo is a classic Italian design made with composite materials poured in place or, for tiles, precast. It consists of chips of marble, quartz, granite, glass, and other suitable materials combined with a binder and polished to create a smooth surface.

Devol kitchen with green tiles and pink wall

This Devol kitchen features units built specifically to fit the alcove, with their Emerald Green London tiles laid below and behind.

Where to start?

Really, the key is selecting the right material for your space first and then picking from the endless styles and colours out there when you’re buying tiles.

Most tile suppliers will provide samples to take home, as seeing tiles in the space can help you with the decision.

The trick is not to order so many samples you could open your own store though. It’s tempting, but try and narrow down your preference. My advice is to assess your needs, style, and how much maintenance you’re willing to do before you make any decision on which material to buy. Then, you can pop your own Insta-worthy snaps on the grid.

Featured image: Gemini Tiles Reflections tile collection, CTD Tiles

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